About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623 “20 years ago.” More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.

About the Blue Bombers coughing up a hairball…Jacob Trouba’s shelf life with the Winnipeg Jets…shoddy journalism…liars, liars in sports…happy 25th to the Goldeyes…a female voice on jock talk TV…a really dumb question about Serena Williams’ pregnant pause…who’s the duchess of what?…Joey Votto and a rat’s ass…numbers crunching in The Athletic Winnipeg…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Loved the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coughed up a 17-point hairball and lost 20-17 to the Lions at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night: GOOD GRIEF!

Good grief, indeed, Charlie Brown.

Winnipeg FC had no business losing to the inferior Leos, but that’s what happens when you play and coach stupid football. Seriously. Three roughing-the-passer violations? Twice ignoring a gimme three points? That’s dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Asked post-game why he twice gambled on third-and-short rather than kick field goals, head coach Mike O’Shea said: “To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Exactly. No brains.

Connor Hellebuyck

I don’t know about you, but I look at the signing of Connor Hellebuyck as an appetizer, something for the rabble to nibble and nosh on until the main course arrives, hopefully later this week.

I mean, yes, the freshly minted agreement between the Winnipeg Jets and their all-star goaltender takes care of the blue paint for the next six National Hockey League crusades. It’s a favorable development. But the real intrigue in Jets Nation is on the blueline, in the form of Jacob Trouba and, to a much lesser degree, his running mate, Josh Morrissey.

Trouba is the X factor.

Given his history that includes a training-camp/early-season work stoppage and a trade request, skeptics abound when it comes to the 24-year-old defender. They won’t be convinced that Trouba is, as they say at the Vegas poker tables, “all-in” with Winnipeg and les Jets until they know his signature is at the bottom of a contract. Long term. As in six or eight years.

Trouba has an audience with an arbitrator scheduled for the morning of July 20, a bargained-for option exercised by 43 other NHL players this summer. If dealings with les Jets stall this week and he meets with the arbitrator, all bets are off on his shelf life in Good Ol’ Hometown.

My guess? Trouba stays. Six years. Then he leaves.

Jacob Trouba

Apparently, Paul Wiecek has insider intel on Trouba. If only he’d be kind enough to let the rest of us in on the scoop. But no. When Wiecek writes that “Trouba is a problem. Again.” it’s his little secret. He isn’t prepared to share the gory details. We have to guess what it is that makes No. 8 “a problem. Again.”

Well, here’s the actual problem: Wiecek harbors a stalker-like obsession with Trouba, one that began in September 2016 and has become an obscenity.

Twice in the past 10 days, Wiecek has launched gratuitous, factless attacks on the Jets young defender. First the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist informed us that “Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba.” (It’s uncertain exactly how Wiecek could possibly know what’s right and what’s wrong for Trouba, but, hey, perhaps the guy’s got a life-coaching gig on the side.) He then doubled down with his cryptic “Trouba is a problem. Again.” Ah, but Wiecek provided not a sliver of evidence to prop of his allegation.

Why is Trouba so far up Wiecek’s nose?

Is it the arbitration thing? Naw. Can’t be. Forty-three other NHL players filed for arbitration, including four of Trouba’s teammates. I hardly think that qualifies any of them as a problem child.

Dale Hawerchuk

Maybe it was the trade demand two years ago. Naw. Can’t be that either. Plenty of people have wanted out of Winnipeg, the great Dale Hawerchuk among them. No one thought of Ducky as a problem child.

So what is it? Simple. During the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Trouba told Wiecek a mistruth. Said he was happier than a pig in slop to be playing in River City, and he hoped to be on board for the long haul. Shortly thereafter, Trouba was a no-show at training camp and he was AWOL through the first month of the season. So he had lied (just like everyone else in hockey, including writers). Wiecek took it as a personal affront and he’s waged a one-man, two-year vendetta to discredit Trouba, branding him a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony and, most recently, selfish and a problem.

It’s irresponsible, tawdry journalism, and someone high on the food chain at the Freep ought to step up and nip it in the bud.

John Ferguson

I had issues with fibbers during my time in sports. Jets GM John Ferguson once told myself and Friar Nicolson a flat-out lie about Bobby Hull. It was a whopper. So I called him out, in print. Fergy was steamed. I was, too. We didn’t talk to each other for two weeks. Not at the rink. Not on the team bus. Not at the airport. Not on the phone. He would just glare down the gun barrel that passed for his nose, and I would ignore him. I don’t recall how we arrived at détente, but Fergy and I eventually got along just fine. Whatever fibs he told me thereafter were little and white. The worst was Sam Katz, owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Sammy was a carnival barker. He would tell the boys at the Free Press that a baseball was round, then he would tell us at the Winnipeg Sun that a baseball was a hockey puck. I couldn’t believe anything that fell from that man’s mouth, so I simply stopped interviewing him and took to calling him The Unmentionable Man in print. Sammy and I were cordial when our paths crossed, but we never warmed to each other. No big deal. I didn’t need him to do my job and he didn’t need me to fill seats in the Ballyard At The Forks.

Speaking of Sammy, his Goldeyes celebrate their 25th anniversary this season. There were ample doubters at the beginning for the independent ball club—and I still wish he’d named his rounders side something other than Goldeyes—but Sammy pulled it off and the Fish have been a rousing success at the box office and between the foul lines with four titles. So good on him and them.

More kudos to Sportsnet for putting Caroline Cameron on the Tim & Sid show while Tim and Sid are goofing around off-set. She was co-hosting with Donnovan Bennett last week and, among many issues, they discussed the eventual return of Roberta Osuna, the Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher who faces a court hearing on a domestic violence charge and is under suspension by Major League Baseball.

Bennett: “Are you okay with him being back with the Jays before the actual court case is resolved?”

Caroline Cameron

Cameron: “No I’m not, and for a few reasons. If the Blue Jays see this as a baseball decision, it’s not simply that. A situation like this never is. And in sports at lot of time we see that it mirrors what’s happening in society, and that includes the things that are going wrong with society. And the nice thing about sports—and excuse my use of the cliché—is sports you can play by your own rules, right? You can make your own decisions and figure out how you want to deal with these societal, moral issues. If the Jays bring Osuna back because they think they need his arm in a season that’s already lost, what message are you sending to the fans? And even on the flip side, innocent until proven guilty, do you want to have Roberto Osuna out there, out on the field, out in the bullpen when this is not resolved? What kind of reaction do you think he’s going to get? I just think you have an opportunity—and I’m not saying the Blue Jays have to set a precedent—but someone at some point has to set a precedent or else change will not happen and this will continue to be just a ‘baseball move’ as opposed to what it actually is.”

Imagine that. A woman, rather than a man, giving voice to a topic so significant to so many women. On a Canadian TV sports gab show. That’s as rare as a Serena Williams loss on Centre Court Wimbledon. Most of the women on Canadian jock talk TV get to read a teleprompter, nothing more. This is refreshing.

Mark Masters

Did one man, Mark Masters of TSN, really ask another man, ESPN tennis analyst Darren Cahill, to put the past year of Serena Williams’ life into “context?” Yes. Yes he did. Which means Masters wins the award for the dumbest question ever, ever, ever. I mean, how in the name of Mama Liv Walton can a man possibly give context to carrying a fetus for nine months, giving birth to a six-pound, 13-ounce girl, breast feeding, then returning to play in the ladies’ championship match of a tennis Grand Slam tournament? Only three people—Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kim Clijsters—can answer that question, and none of them are men. What will Masters do next? Ask John McEnroe what it’s like to be a lesbian on the tennis tour? To his credit, Cahill politely answered the questionable question about Williams’ pregnant pause, saying, “You can’t put that into context” before mentioning that Clijsters and other women have put their careers on hold to start a family and returned to win Slam titles.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber

I suppose with a soon-to-be 37-year-old mom navigating her way to the Wimbledon final in just her fourth post-childbirth tournament, pundits will be slagging the quality and depth of women’s tennis. But in besting Williams on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, Angelique Kerber became the seventh different champion in the past seven majors. So, I’d say the distaff side of the sport is just fine, thank you. The real issue is on the men’s side, where all four semifinalist at the All England Club are 30somethings. Generation Next simply cannot break through.

The Duchesses of Something

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell my British duchesses without a program. Is Kate the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, or is Kate the Duchess of Sussex and Meghan the Duchess of Cambridge. If they’re going to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, I think they should be obligated to wear duchess name tags.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds swatted his 266th home run last Monday to climb above Matt Stairs on the all-time dinger list for Canadians in Major League Baseball. He now stands second to Larry Walker. Well, to borrow Votto’s words when he piddled on our Corn Flakes earlier this year, “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that,” and I won’t give “a rat’s ass” if he goes on to surpass Walker’s record of 383 HRs.

Dave Poulin

I heard Dave Poulin gabbing about the Connor Hellebuyck contract on TSN the other day, and I had to tune out because the guy no longer has street cred. Not after he was one of seven voters to leave Connor McDavid off their all-star ballot. I mean, McDavid was the scoring champion, for cripes sake. And Poulin is telling us he wasn’t among the top three centre-ice men last season? What would he have us believe next? That Bobby Orr was a slowpoke? Sidney Crosby needs to work on his hand-eye coordination? Bobby Hull never wore a rug? It’s one thing for shinny scribes/broadcasters to dumb down, but there’s no excuse for a former NHL player to be such a d’oh boy. If you’re wondering, the other geniuses who made their ballots a no-McDavid zone were Dave Shoalts (Globe and Mail), Mike Colageo (New Bedford Standard Times), Stephen Conroy (Boston Herald), Emily Kaplan (ESPN), Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), and Arthur Staple (The Athletic New York). Off with their press passes!

There’s a lot of good reading in The Athletic, but I’m deeply disappointed in the Winnipeg content. A chap named Murat Ates is the man about the Jets, and he’s advertised as someone who delivers a blend of “modern hockey analysis with engaging storytelling.” Sorry, but what I’ve seen to date is nothing but number crunching. All the “engaging storytelling” must be hidden in the math and, since I’m not a numbers geek, his copy is a total, also lengthy, yawn. Reading all those numbers makes my eyes glaze over. I don’t say that to be mean, but math and I have been at odds since Grade 1 at St. Alphonsus, and I believe sports is more about people than salary dumps and contract term. Meanwhile, if The Athletic Winnipeg has someone on the Bombers beat, he or she must be in a witness protection program. I realize the online newspaper is still looking for good people, but giving the Canadian Football League short shrift when Winnipeg FC is the only game in town until September is bad form. The Athletic Winnipeg needs a jolt of creative juice. Pronto.

And, finally, I note that 680 CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown is getting back into the jock talk business. All sports director Kelly Moore needs now is a host, and I find myself wondering if he’d be brave enough to do something radical. You know, like hire a female as the lead voice on the gabfest. Actually, I wonder if any women will bother to apply. As mentioned earlier, jock talk in Canada is very much an old boys club.

In 2017, I do not resolve…

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. What’s the point? I know I wouldn’t keep them.

I mean, I could resolve to cease my regular criticisms of jock journalists. And I could really, really mean it. Girl Guides honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. But then one of the girls or boys on the beat would scribble or say something goofy, dumb, ridiculous or all of the above and it would be like a tub of chocolate swirl ice cream—I would have to have at it.

Thus, I do the opposite. I make New Year’s non-resolutions. That way, I can’t go wrong. I know I’ll break every one of my non-resolutions long before the year is done and I’ll be happy about it.

With that in mind, here are my New Year’s non-resolutions for 2017…

2017-not-resolutions

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Sports Santa delivers the goods to the naughty and nice in toyland

santa-crapping-2016Sports Santa is back in town and the jolly, ol’ boy isn’t so jolly this year. He’s actually in a bit of a snit. So tell us, Sports Santa, what do you have for the girls and boys in the toy department, a large lump of coal or a nice gift for those who scored big in 2016?

COAL: Mike O’Shea. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach deserves the entire coal bin, not just a lump or two. Where do we begin? It took him five games to realize that Drew Willy was a complete washout as a starting quarterback, he shows nothing but contempt for the media, he made an epic, boneheaded blunder that cost the Bombers any chance of winning the only Canadian Football League playoff game he’s coached in three seasons, then he went on record as saying he’d make the same epic, boneheaded blunder again if given the opportunity. Sigh.

GOAL: Justin Medlock. The guy hoofed 60 field goals, a CFL record, but he’ll be remembered as the victim of O’Shea’s playoff brain fart. Asked to kick a 61-yard FG in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium to preserve the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspirations, his attempt fell seven yards short of the target. He doesn’t take the rap, though. O’Shea does for asking his kicker to do the impossible.

GOAL: Matt Nichols took the ball that O’Shea was ordered to hand him and ran and passed it all the way to the playoffs, putting together a 10-3 record after taking over from Willy as the starting QB.

COAL: I put plugs in my ears, so someone please tell me that Paul Maurice has finally stopped squawking about the Winnipeg Jets’ schedule. The head coach provided his workers with a built-in excuse for failure with his constant, oh-woe-is-me carping about the grind foisted upon them by National Hockey League schedule-makers. Coach PoMo’s pity party was pathetic.

GOAL: What’s not to like about the Jets’ Lickety-Split Line of Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele, or as I call them Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat? The Lickety-Split Line should be terrorizing NHL defenders and goaltenders for the next dozen years. Mind you, with Maurice pulling the strings behind the bench, forward combinations last about as long as a Grade One kid’s attention span. He might have them split up before New Year’s Eve.

COAL: When Jacob Trouba and his agent went public with their trade request and the young defenceman chose to stay home rather than attend Jets training camp, teammate Mathieu Perreault branded him “selfish.” Perreault should flap his gums less and do more of what he’s paid to do—produce points. The overpaid and underachieving forward has a whopping seven points (two goals). Stop my beating heart.

christmas-stocking-coalCOAL: He’s among my favorite scribes, but Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press totally lost the plot with what came across as a personal attack on Trouba, rather than reasoned analysis. Among other things, Wiecek called him a “malcontent” and “impetuous” and “the biggest loser” and chided him for his “petulance” in requesting a trade and holding out. Well, excuse me, but Trouba was merely exercising his bargained-for right as a restricted free agent. It’s fair to question his decision, but we can do without the schoolyard insults. Wiecek is better than that.

GOAL: I’m told Kirk Penton is riding off into the sunset. The best CFL beat guy in the country, Penton leaves the Winnipeg Sun at the end of the year, and that’s a huge blow to the tabloid. No word on where Kirk is headed, but he’ll be a success wherever he lands.

GOAL: He didn’t appear in the Sun sports pages often enough, but the now-retired Cam Cole of Postmedia will be missed. His copy was golden.

COAL: Postmedia has ransacked the sports writing biz in Canada, with its non-stop stream of force-outs and buyouts of people like Cole, Penton and George (Shakey) Johnson, among others. Postmedia has also left the country with exactly one two-newspaper town west of the Republic of Tranna. That would be Winnipeg, where the Sun and Freep still try to beat the other guy to the story.

COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia said Kevin Durant had “no spine” and it was “gutless” of him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He told both pro golfer Brooke Henderson and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman to “grow up.” He repeatedly has called people “idiots” and engaged in childish hissing contests on his Twitter feed. Seems to me that there’s a soon-to-be 60-year-old sports scribe who should take his own advice and “grow up.”

GOAL: Bravo Desiree Scott. The Winnipeg-born midfielder.made her 100th appearance for Canada in international soccer in February (the 15th woman to do so) and she helped our Olympic side earn a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games. Desiree and her gal pals beat Germany, France, Australia and Brazil, all ahead of them in the world rankings.

GOAL: Executive director Mo Glimcher retired after 41 years with the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. I remember dealing with Mo when I worked at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. Great guy.

GOAL: Although she was wearing Alberta colors, Chelsea Carey did Manitoba proud when she skipped her Wild Rose Country team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title. Chelsea, the daughter of Dan Carey, was groomed on the curling rinks of Winnipeg.

COAL: Evander Kane simply cannot stay out of trouble. Or court.

christmas-stocking-goodGOAL: A tip of the bonnet to the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, for bringing the Heritage Classic to Winnipeg and linking the current Jets franchise to the roots of professional hockey as we know it in River City.

COAL: The Puck Pontiff blew it when he didn’t make original Jets franchise founder Ben Hatskin the first inductee to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. The late, great Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who wore the C during the Jets glory years in the World Hockey Association, also should have been among the first group to be enshrined.

COAL: Bobby Hull refused to join Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson at a ceremony to salute the first three members of the Jets Hall of Fame. What a drip.

GOAL: Kyle Walters did boffo business in the CFL free-agent market, purchasing seven free agents at the opening bell. Justin Medlock was the pick of the litter.

GOAL (posthumously): We lost curling champion Vic Peters in March. A wonderful person.

GOAL: Old friend Ed Tait bolted from the Winnipeg Free Press toy department to the Blue Bombers, where he’s made the CFL club’s website sing with his fine prose.

GOAL: Mr. Everything with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, moved to Las Vegas, where he sits at the right hand of general manager George McPhee with the NHL expansion outfit.

GOAL: Winnipeg Goldeyes are rulers of all they survey in baseball’s American Association. The local nine has brought two titles to River City this decade.

COAL: Goldeyes owner Sam Katz took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Jets for their lack of success. Such a shame to know you’re still a total drip after all these years, Sammy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers brass being jerks…Mike O’Shea and the cow jumping over the moon…Sam Katz still has no class…and Kate Upton’s beau gets screwed

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

My main takeaway from Kyle Walters’ gab session with news snoops on Friday:

Given a choice between being forced to watch a 24-hour Ashton Kutcher film marathon or being forced to spend 20 minutes with the media, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager would order an XXXXL tub of buttered popcorn, hunker down in a convenient man cave and run the risk of going blind while watching Demi Moore’s ex make an ass of himself.

kyle-walters-pc
Why does this man dislike the media so much?

I mean, I can’t decide whose distaste for chin-wags with the media is stronger, Walters’ or head coach Mike O’Shea’s.

Each man is equally guarded and neither is forthcoming, but it isn’t just what they say or (more significantly) don’t say. Their facial expressions and mannerism speak volumes. They both look like they haven’t had a bowel movement in a month and their laxative still hasn’t kicked in. Why they send off the vibe that media are pond scum, I am uncertain. It’s not as if the assembled news snoops are there to pick a fight. They’re asking fair questions and deserve fair, honest replies. Instead, they often get gobbledygook framed with disdain and contempt.

For example:

Judy Owen of The Canadian Press referenced O’Shea’s late-game decision to attempt the most improbable field goal in Canadian Football League history rather than gamble on third down in the Bombers’ 32-31 playoff loss to the B.C. Lions last Sunday.

“What did you think about that last call against B.C., sending (placekicker Justin) Medlock out?” Owen asked.

“The head coach is in a difficult position throughout the game,” responded Walters, his forehead furrowed. “He makes tough decisions. That’s what he’s paid to do. I’ll support…luckily for me I don’t have to go into the realm of those type of decisions, but, you know, throughout the game I support our head coach or coaching staff and all the decisions.

“Certainly after every game Mike and I will sit down and talk about the decisions and the logic behind things and why he did what he did. There’s sound logic to everything Mike does and the coaching staff does, so my job is to support our coaching staff and certainly question why they do things and I don’t go into the realm of on-field decisions.”

Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun then asked, “Would you tell us if you disagreed with (the decision)?”

“No.”

Next question.

Look, I understand Walters not wanting to toss his head coach under the bus. But I also understand the rabble has the right to know what the football boss thinks about his head coach’s choice. This poor man’s Bill Belichick routine from Walters and O’Shea wore thin quite some time ago. You want to act like Belichick, boys? Try winning something first. Then you can act like jerks.

Until then, answer the damn questions like professionals and we can all move on.

Advised that O’Shea twice refused to deliver a “yes” or “no” answer when asked if he wanted to return to coach the Bombers next year, Walters laid bare his disdain for the media. “Mike, he probably doesn’t speak…he doesn’t tell you guys anything probably. I don’t blame him,” Walters said with a slight smirk. Terrific. The Winnipeg Football Club is supposed to be for the people and of the people, but the head coach refuses to tell the people if he wants to stay and the GM thinks it’s a joke. Sigh.

Try this scenario, kids: The Toronto Argonauts release Scott Milanovich before the Bombers and O’Shea agree on a new contract. What then? Does Walters pursue Milanovich, a guy who has won the Grey Cup as a head coach and offensive coordinator, or does he re-sign O’Shea, a guy who believes a cow really can jump over the moon?

Is it true that former River City mayor Sam Katz actually took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Winnipeg Jets during the unveiling of his official portrait at City Hall last week? Apparently so. Sammy presented Mayor Brian Bowman with a Winnipeg Goldeyes shirt and said, “It’s the only pro team that’s won.” Atta boy, Sammy. Way to keep it classy. (Yes, kids, that’s sarcasm.) Never mind that Sammy’s Goldeyes have won three baseball titles since the last Grey Cup parade in Winnipeg and the Jets haven’t accomplished squat since 1979, when they claimed their third and final World Hockey Association championship. There’s winning, then there’s winning with class. I’ve always been told that the Goldeyes are a class organization, but I find that hard to believe when the man at the top has none.

Justin Verlander got screwed and Kate Upton wants to know why.
Justin Verlander got screwed and Kate Upton wants to know why.

Kate Upton, voice of reason. Who knew? Dear Kate’s language is salty and suggestive, but she gives a good argument on behalf of her beau, Justin Verlander, who got screwed in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award, finishing second to Rick Porcello because two baseball writers from Tampa Bay left him off their ballots. In a series of not-so-sweet tweets, Kate made it clear that she—and only she—gets to “f—” Justin Verlander. Cover girl Kate and Verlander got over the snub, though. They consoled themselves with a trip to Italy and the Vatican, where it’s believed the Pope gave her penance of 10 Hail Marys, five Our Fathers and she is to wash out her potty mouth with soap and holy water.

Got a kick out of Mark Feinsand’s take on the Kate Upton tweets. “With all due respect to Kate Upton, it’s time for her and everybody else to pipe down,” he wrote in the New York Daily News. Fine. But then Feinsand concluded his piece by writing, “Personally, I love that these debates get people as fired up as they do. It shows that people still care about the game, which is good for all of us.” I see. He loves the debate, but Kate Upton and everyone else who disagrees with him should “pipe down.”

How is that Milan Lucic thing working out for the Edmonton Oilers? One goal and one assist in the month of November. I’m sure the Oilers will be pleased to pay him $42 million over the next seven winters for that kind of production.

Amid all the fear mongering, I just want to go on record as saying that Donald Trump’s election as 45th president of the United States hasn’t changed my life. That doesn’t mean I like him (I don’t), but so far I’m sleeping just fine at night.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About Kyle Walters’ thin skin…a birthday bash for Ab McDonald…Sam Katz’s Fish…and dumbing down on The Reporters

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Kyle Walters
Kyle Walters

I’ve never met Kyle Walters, but, based on his most recent thrust and parry with news scavengers, he strikes me as a man who hasn’t had a bowel movement in about a week.

I mean, that wasn’t a press conference the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager had after dispatching Drew Willy to the Toronto Argonauts. It was a root canal. Without anesthesia. At times, his facial expressions suggested someone was squeezing his left testicle.

Like when Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun tossed out this question:

What do you say to fans who wonder about your ability to produce, develop, find a long-term solution at quarterback?”

Walters closed his eyes. He licked his lips. He grimaced. He raised his eyebrows. He closed his eyes again. He pursed his lips. I think there might have been a wince in all those facial gymnastics as well.

You’re questioning my competence I guess is what you’re asking?” he then said.

Ouch. A wee bit touchy, are we Kyle?

I suppose that’s understandable, though. After all, shipping his high-salaried, backup QB to the Boatmen was a concession that Walters’ and head coach Mike O’Shea’s handling of Willy was a badly botched experiment. They treated him as a quarterbacking messiah, even though he was still as green as St. Patty’s Day when he arrived in River City, and they coddled and stood by Willy even as Matt Nichols outperformed him at training camp this summer.

That was the most shocking and disturbing sound bite that surfaced in Walters’ chin-wag with the Fourth Estate the other day. He, like so many others, recognized that Nichols was the superior quarterback, yet he and O’Shea went with the inferior guy. Their guy.

Matt Nichols
Matt Nichols

Certain guys click with coordinators better than others, and Matt just seemed to be a better fit for what Paul (offensive coordinator LaPolice) wanted to accomplish,” Walters confessed. “You saw that a little bit through training camp and certainly through the productivity that Matt’s had. It’s not uncommon where certain skill sets of players match up with certain coordinators a little bit better, and I think in this situation Matt’s aligns with Paul’s a little bit better. Matt’s a bit…quicker release, anticipates things a little bit better, gets rid of the ball a little bit quicker.”

So why the hell wasn’t Nichols starting from the get-go? Why did we have to wait until this Canadian Football League crusade was on amber alert before we saw Nichols behind centre?

Because the Bombers braintrust is quarterback blind, that’s why.

Based on evidence gathered to date, Walters and O’Shea wouldn’t know a quarterback if they saw Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing catch in Matt Nichols’ back yard. Perhaps that explains why they don’t have a QB under contract beyond the end of November.

Go ahead and challenge Walters to name his starting quarterback for 2017. He can’t. But they can in Regina and Calgary and Edmonton and B.C. Among the CFL West Division outfits, only in Winnipeg do they not have a QB clue.

And yet Walters gets his back up when asked a fair question about a long-term quarterbacking solution for the Bombers. Good grief, man.

Paul Friesen wasn’t questioning Walters’ competence, but someone should when it comes to QBs.

Friends, family and fans will gather to swap stories and tell lies about one of the genuinely elite guys, Ab McDonald, on Thursday night at the Victoria Inn out by the airport in St. James. They’re calling it an 80th birthday bash, but it’s all in support of Special Olympics, an organization near and dear to McDonald’s heart. Ab was always one of my two go-to guys whenever I needed a comment about the Winnipeg Jets, the other being Joe Daley. The first Jets captain and the man who scored the first goal in franchise history, Ab is engaging and obliging and quick to deliver a thoughtful quote. I always considered him to be a gentleman of the Jean Beliveau ilk.

sammyI found Sam Katz to be somewhat less than sincere and a phony in his dealings with us at the Winnipeg Sun during my dozen or so years with the tabloid. So much so, that I once imposed a moratorium on all Sam Katz interviews because he wasn’t to be believed. That’s why I oft referred to Sammy in print as the Unmentionable Man. I will say this for him, though—he has delivered as owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The Ballyard by the Forks is a beautiful facility and the Fish have established a tradition of baseball excellence. They’re in another final, this time against the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association, and if Sammy’s boys pull it off it’ll be a third title for the franchise. So I have two words for you this morning, Sam (not the same two words I once used to describe you): Go Fish!

Dave Hodge must have passed out the stupid pills before the latest edition of The Reporters on TSN this week, because Michael Farber and Steve Simmons went deep into the dumb barrel.

First, Farber said, “Colin Kaepernick has essentially become Rosa Parks.” What the fudge? That just might be the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard from an intelligent man and an excellent writer. Rosa Parks was arrested, fingerprinted and spent a day in jail for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. On the police report, arresting officers listed her nationality as “Negro,” not American. The incident sparked a 13-month bus boycott, brought Martin Luther King Jr. on board and gave rise to the civil rights movement in the United States. Mrs. Parks also lost her job as a seamstress, she was arrested a second time for her role in organizing the boycott, and she felt obliged to leave town.

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks

And what has Kaepernick been forced to endure for his refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before National Football League games? Scorn from divas like Kate Upton. That’s right, a supermodel has tsk-tsked him. Such a hardship for the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback to bear. How will he survive?

Colin Kaerpernick is no Rosa Parks. Shame on Farber.

Not to be outdone, Postmedia’s Simmons doubled down on dumb with a nonsensical rant about the recent U.S. Open tennis championships saying, “I hate any tournament that Serena Williams doesn’t win and I hate any tournament when (Novak) Djokovic isn’t right in there and fighting for a championship. In this case, Serena wasn’t herself, he wasn’t himself, and we get a B winner so to speak.”

Angelique Kerber: A "B" winner?
Angelique Kerber: A “B” winner?

Well, let’s see. Angelique Kerber won two Grand Slam events this year (U.S., Australia) and was in a third final (Wimbledon). She’s ranked No. 1 in the world among female players. This is a “B” winner?

I now direct your attention to the men’s side, where Stan Wawrinka prevailed over Djokovic in the championship match. Wawrinka has won more Grand Slam tournaments since 2014 than Rafael Nadal (1), Andy Murray (1) and Roger Federer (0). Only Djokovic’s six GS titles is better than Wawrinka’s three in that time frame. In each of his Grand Slam victories, he has defeated the world No. 1-ranked player in the final. Only one player, Djokovic, has won more titles this year and over the past three years. Wawrinka is ranked No. 3 in the world. This is a “B” winner?

I was waiting for someone on the panel or host Hodge to challenge Farber and Simmons, but no. They were given a free pass. Wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers, would we now?

Which has long been my one complaint about The Reporters: It has no bite, no edge. It’s just four buddies agreeing with each other, even when they say really, really dumb things.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Some red cards and yellow cards for you, you and you, and one “Gooooooooal!” for the Fab Four

It occurs to me that in honor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s time for some red cards, some yellow cards and a big salute…

red cardI don’t know who to red card first, Kyle Walters or Mike O’Shea.

I suppose it should be Walters, the chap who, as chief cook and bottle washer of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, extended a training camp invitation to Jordan Yantz. He said this was the real deal. Said the former University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback would be granted “every opportunity to win a job.”

“This isn’t a charity case, this isn’t any of that for-the-good-of-the-Canadian-quarterback stuff,” the Bombers GM told scribes.

As if.

This was such an obvious charity case that it probably qualifies as a tax writeoff.

The Bombers had two dress rehearsals in advance of their 2015 Canadian Football League crusade that commences on Saturday night in Yantz’s home town of Regina, and he never took a snap in either game. That’s what passes for “every opportunity” in Bomberland?

Walters gets a red card for the load of BS he dumped on news scavengers, and head coach O’Shea gets a red card for not giving Yantz at least one set of downs.

yellow card2Here’s the ultimate irony for Tiger Woods: By shooting three rounds in the 80s this year on the PGA Tour, including one in the just-concluded U.S. Open, he is now playing just like your basic weekend hacker but he no longer gets to play on weekends.

I’ve tried to think of another athlete of Woods’s stature who has experienced such a harsh, hurried and more inglorious plummet from the summit than His Royal Randiness. No one comes to mind. Yes, the skills of others, such as Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali, eroded over time and it was painful to watch their careers wither before our eyes. But with Tiger…well, this is cliff diving into a cement pond.

red cardOn the subject of vanishing acts, either Michael Sam has been placed in a witness protection program or he’s part of a David Copperfield now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t illusion. I say that because, in a day and age when seemingly everyone (except me) has a phone that is part camera, part tape recorder and part video recorder it’s astonishing that there has not been a peep from Sam since he bugged out of the Montreal Alouettes training camp.

The last confirmed sighting of Sam was almost two weeks ago. Where is TMZ when we need them?

I don’t know who’s been counseling Sam since he came out as gay, but I wouldn’t hire those people to advise me on what time of the day is best to brush my teeth. The Oprah reality thing, the Dancing with the Stars thing, the disappearing act…odd, odd, odd. Once he was out a gay, the advice should have been simple: Just play football, Michael.

gooooooool nuI call up the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Ed Tait, Paul Wiecek, Gary Lawless, Tim Campbell, Melissa Martin, Scott Billeck, Jeff Hamilton, Jerrad Peters and Doug Brown. That’s nine local scribes.

I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section, meanwhile, and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and Ted Wyman (in cameo appearances). That’s four local scribes.

Cripes, man, the Freep can field a complete baseball team while the Sun can barely scrounge up enough guys to enter a bonspiel or have a decent game of poker.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry was the last outfit outnumbered this badly.

So quiz me this: How is it that the Fab Four at the Sun somehow manages to fight the good fight against the Nattering Nine at the Drab Slab? Either one side is punching above its weight or the other side is pulling its punches, because the boys at Team Sun don’t get beat often and they manage to get in some good licks of their own.

Thus, it’s kudos to the Sun.

Still, I’d like to see them add a voice or two to give the section a bit more wallop. A female voice would be a welcome addition, too.

yellow card2Okay, we’ve got the Winnipeg Jets, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets.

We’ve got the Manitoba Moose, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Manitoba Moose.

We’ve got the Winnipeg Goldeyes, named after the baseball outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Is there no one in River City with an imagination? I mean, seriously. Three professional sports franchises and not an original handle in the bunch?

I know Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of Jets the Sequel, was bullied into naming his club after the dead and buried Jets of yore, but what’s his excuse for the regurgitation of the Moose? As for Sammy Katz and his Goldeyes, I didn’t like the name when he introduced it in 1994 and I don’t like it today. Mention the Goldeyes to me and I assume you’re talking about the St. Louis Cardinals farm team that played out of Winnipeg Stadium in the early 1960s.

So I say thank goodness for Uncle Vince Leah, the legendary sports scribe who named the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Sam Katz buys the Winnipeg Jets and other stories you’ll read (or not) in 2015

Read all about it! Before it happens!

That’s right, kids, we’ve gone crystal ball gazing and we see considerable intrigue and unrest during the next 12 months, not the least of which is the sale of the Winnipeg Jets. Here are some of the stories you’ll be reading (or not) in 2015…

  • EDMONTON— The Edmonton Oilers have won the draft lottery but traded the first overall pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Evander Kane, Ondrej Pavelec, Dustin Byfuglien and future considerations.

The decision has been heavily criticized, with a headline in the Edmonton Sun screaming: “OILERS PUNK’D OUR DRAFT!”

“We did nothing of the sort!” an angry Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish raged an hour before being fired. “That’s typical trash tabloid journalism! I realize the easy thing to do and the right thing to do would have been to keep the No. 1 pick and use it to take either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. But sometimes doing the right thing is the wrong thing and, for us, doing the wrong thing is the right thing to do. Besides, if anybody can screw up a draft with both McDavid and Eichel in it, it’s Kevin Lowe and myself. We don’t need the headache. We might never use our first-round draft again.”

Kane, meanwhile, was delighted to be leaving Winnipeg.

“Sweet,” he said before dashing off to take care of unpaid parking tickets. “Edmonton is a lot closer to Vegas.”

  • WINNIPEG—The Winnipeg Jets have selected Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick and presented him with jersey No. 10, with Dale Hawerchuk’s blessing.

“That’s just ducky,” the modest McDavid said during a signing ceremony at Portage and Main. “They wanted to give me No. 9 now that Evander is gone, but I thought that would be disrepectful. The No. 9 is a storied number in Winnipeg Jets history. I’ve got a lot to prove and a long way to go before anyone can call me the next Doug Smail.”

  • WINNIPEG—The future considerations in the big Edmonton Oilers-Winnipeg Jets trade is Chris Thorburn.

“You know how when you’re a young guy and you go out drinking with the boys? And then you wake up the next morning beside some chick you’ve never seen before? And there’s a tattoo of a heart with her name on it on your ass and you say, ‘What the hell have I done?’ ” Jets GM Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff said at a press gathering. “Well, I woke up this morning and realized that Thorbs’s contract was the tattoo on my ass. I mean, three years at $1.2 mill per? What was I thinking? We’ll miss Thorbs in the room…wait…actually we won’t.”

  • LAS VEGAS—The season ticket drive for a proposed team in Las Vegas has stalled at 37 people, but the city has been awarded a National Hockey League franchise, nonetheless. Team officials are ecstatic.

“This gives us three more season ticket subscribers than the Florida Panthers and five more than the Arizona Coyotes,” said a team spokesman. “We can’t wait to start losing $25-to-$30 million a year.”

  • LAS VEGAS—Owners of the Las Vegas franchise have announced that the team name will be Craps. After a name-the-team contest, the most popular suggestions are Black Jacks, Rat Pack, Gamblers, Sinners, Bandits, Slots, Strip, Caesars, Snake Eyes and Craps. The expansion club’s 37 season ticket holders chose Craps.

“It’s only appropriate that the team be called Craps,” a club spokesman explained while working a one-armed bandit at Caesar’s Palace. “First of all, putting a team in Sin City is a real gamble. It’s a roll of the dice, so to speak! Secondly, once the rest of the league offers us their rejects in the expansion draft, what do you think our roster will look like? The absolute shits, that’s what it’ll look like! Craps!”

  • LAS VEGAS—The winner of the Name-the-Vegas Team contest has received a lifetime pass to every Celine Dion show on the Strip until the end of time.

“Can I get tickets to see David Copperfield make her disappear instead?” he asked.

  • TORONTO—After more than 30 years preaching from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry has been fired following a rant in which he referred to Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Canucks as “those two tooty-fruities in Vancouver.”

“What are you saying, Don?” asked Ron MacLean. “That the Sedins are gay?”

“You take it any way you want!” barked Cherry. “They’re two tooty-fruities in a tooty-fruity TOWN! Ya been to Vancouver lately? Nobody workin’…everybody smokin’ wacky-tobbacky…everybody kissy-huggin’ trees and little rodents…protestin’…and look what they did ta the joint after the Stanley Cup final in 2011! Almost burnt the joint ta THE GROUND! That was a DISGRACE! People all over the world saw that on TV and everythink…that’s what they think we’re like in Canada! A bunch of pot-smokin’ layabouts who like to play WITH MATCHES!”

Asked for a comment, a visibly shaken HNIC host George Stromboloupoouloulouloupooulous moaned, “The body’s not even cold yet and the scavengers are already plucking at the carcass. (Glenn) Healy wants Grapes’s Coach’s Corner gig and P.J. Stock wants his wardrobe. It’s going to get ugly around here. And I’m not talking about what Damien Cox sees in the mirror.”

  • WINNIPEG—Mega-billionaire David Thomson has sold his shares in the Winnipeg Jets to former mayor Sam Katz, who immediately engaged in a very public spat over the team name with co-owner Mark Chipman.

“I’ve never liked the name Jets,” said Katz, “and if you were to inject Mark with truth serum he’d tell you the very same thing. He only named the team Jets due to extreme pressure from fans. The guy caved. No spine. It was stupid to name the team after the original version of the Jets just because that’s what the majority of the people wanted. Who the hell cares what the fans think? I was mayor of this town for 10 years and I didn’t give a damn what the people wanted. I did what I wanted. And I want a new team name because the original Jets left town in 1996.”

Reminded by news scavengers that he named his baseball team Goldeyes, 30 years after the original Goldeyes disappeared from River City’s sports landscape, Katz remained defiant.

“If there’s one thing I learned a long time ago when I was bringing acts like the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney to town,” he says, “it’s that what you say and what you do don’t have to be mutually agreeable. Just because I say I’ll do something doesn’t mean I’ll do something. That’s simple Politics 101.”

  • WINNIPEG—The Winnipeg Jets have become the first NHL team to place major ads on their uniforms, with a big, bold 7-Eleven Slurpee logo across the front of their jerseys.

“I think it’s a perfect fit for Winnipeg,” said co-owner Sam Katz. “This is the Slurpee capital of not only Canada, but North America and the entire world. As a former mayor of this town, I can confirm that no place sucks like Winnipeg! I also think there’s perfect symmetry, in that our corporate sponsors and Ondrej Pavelec’s save percentage are exactly the same—.711.”

  • WINNIPEG—The Winnipeg Sun has taken over from the Winnipeg Free Press as the “official newspaper of the Winnipeg Jets,” and there’s mixed reaction.

“This is awful news,” said Sun sports columnist Paul Friesen. “Now that we’re in bed with the Jets, do they expect me to become a toady for the hockey team, Thursday? Do I have to write that Kevin Cheveldayoff is a genius, Friday? This is the worst thing that’s happened to me since they asked me to write the annual Night Before Christmas column, Saturday.”

“This is great news,” said Freep sports columnist Gary Lawless. “Now that we’re not in bed with the Jets anymore, I can write mean and nasty stuff just like Friesen’s been doing all these years. Let him be the toady. I can say what I really, really, really think of Kevin Cheveldayoff and his dumb draft-and-develop plan. This is the best thing that’s happened to me since second helpings.”

“What do you think would be tougher to take?” asked Freep beat writer Ed Tait. “Somebody who’s wearing hob-nailed boots kicking you in the nuts, or watching a new Adam Sandler movie? I know that has nothing to do with the Free Press no longer being the official newspaper of the Jets, but I often think about things like hobnail boots and Adam Sandler movies when I watch the Jets play. I’m a happy camper either way.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Winnipeg sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.

Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.

Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.

I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.

I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.

I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.

I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.

So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.

(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)

These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)

Matty
Matty

Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.

Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.

Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.

Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.

Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.

Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!

My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.

Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.

Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.

Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.

Tommy McVie
Tommy McVie

Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.

Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.

Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.

Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.

Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.

Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.

Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.

Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.

Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.

Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.

Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.

Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.

Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners by booing during PA announcements made en francais during a Jets-Finland friendly, a man called my home the next day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.

Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.

Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.

Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.

Vic Peters
Vic Peters

Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.

Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.

Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.

Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.

Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.

“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”

“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.

Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

MY WINNIPEG: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

 

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.

We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.

“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.

“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”

So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.

I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.

It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.

I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.

I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.

The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.

I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.

The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.

But I digress…

My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.

I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.

I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.

I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)

At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.

That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.

And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?

 

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.

Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.

A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull
Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.

Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.

We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?

And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!

I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.

When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.

So everything was cool.

It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.

8-harold-ballard-worst-moments-in-maple-leafs-history
Humpty Harold Ballard

The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”

“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.

Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.

The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.

The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.

I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.

But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.

We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.

 

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.

bowlingWe all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.

It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.

There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.

Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.

“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”

He echoed those sentiments when the great Bombers squads of 1959 and ’62 were celebrated by the MSHOF.

“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”

Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.

Ken_PloenAs an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.

And we don’t care about their roots.

For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.

It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.

Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.

Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.

Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.

I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.

 

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.

Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.

When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.

I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.

Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.

Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?

Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.

So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?

At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.

The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.

This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.